Accommodations and Food
Places to stay on Isla Carenero vary from hostel dorms to fairly upscale little hotels. Most have a restaurant attached. A walking path along the water links all of them. Places here are listed in counterclockwise order, starting from the west side of the island.
The Careening Cay Resort (tel. 757-9157, www.careeningcay.com, starts at US$43 s/d) is set in a garden near the water overlooking Isla Colón. It comprises six wooden bungalows and an open-air restaurant, the Cosmic Crab Café, over the water.
Three of the bungalows (US$104.50 s/d, US$11 for each additional person) have two rooms, with a queen-size bed, twin-size bunk beds, and a fully equipped kitchenette with gas stove, microwave, and fridge. Note that the room divider doesn’t reach the ceiling, limiting privacy. There is also a one-room bungalow with queen bed (US$82.50 s/d). A new bungalow is twice the size of the two-bedroom ones and sleeps six or more people (US$152.90).
All the bungalows have a TV and DVD player and hot-water bathrooms, and all stays include a buffet breakfast. Construction has been taking place for several years on either side of this place, and the area has been attracting trash and rather squalid shacks, presumably housing workers. Careening Cay is insulated from this, on well-tended grounds.
The restaurant attached to the resort is the
Cosmic Crab Café (tel. 757-9157, www.careeningcay.com, noon–9 P.M. Tues.–Sun., US$6–10), a friendly place that’s especially popular with the gringo crowd. The bar and main dining area is in a large rancho over the water, connected by a boardwalk to a line of small private ranchos. Offerings include seafood, salads, soups, and burgers. The restaurant is known for its crab cakes, at least when crab is available. At other times they make the cakes with other fish, such as red snapper, which is delicious, as are the conch fritters. This is also a good place to go for hummus and falafel.
The wife in the couple that own the place is a mixologist and is always creating new concoctions, which are enormous and cost around US$5–6. Her ginger snap martini is refreshing and potent. There’s a whole line of ice-cream-based drinks with names like Sex in the Mud (vanilla vodka, Kahlua, crème de cacao, chocolate ice cream, and a frozen banana). There’s a sunset dinner three-course special from 4–6 P.M. for US$8, and this is a place you can actually see the sun set.
The Aqua Lounge Hostel & Bar (tel. 757-9975, cell 6581-8528, 6734-2550, or 6710-1626, US$10 pp, including breakfast) is, as its owners are fond of pointing out, the only hostel in Bocas that’s over the water. That’s only one of its attractions. Stays here include breakfast, free wireless Internet, and use of the communal kitchen. The hostel is built onto a dock strung with hammocks, and when it gets too warm guests can roll right into the sea for a swim or a bounce on the water trampoline.
The shared bathrooms have hot-water showers. The two dorm rooms have a total of 11 beds, and though they’re pleasant enough, some may find them dark and a bit claustrophobic. But all the extras make this place more like a tropical bohemian playground than a backpackers’ crash pad. (Note to Bocas veterans: This place used to be the legendary Bernard’s Pargo Rojo.)
Guests need to be comfortable sharing their surroundings with partying hordes, as the attached Aqua Lounge Bar (www.bocasaqualounge.info) is a popular nightspot. It opens around 10 a.m. and stays open late every night. The big nights here are Saturday (reggae night) and Wednesday (ladies’ night—drinks free for the females of the species). The Aqua Lounge is directly across from the Barco Hundido in Bocas town, making it easy to bar hop.
Casa Acuario (tel. 757-9565, casaacuario [at] aol [dot] com, www.casaacuario.com, US$77–88 s/d, including breakfast) is a bed-and-breakfast built right over the water that offers four cute, spacious, and sunny wood-paneled rooms with modern bathrooms, air-conditioning, and cable TV. It has its own small stretch of beach. There’s a balcony upstairs with a view of the ocean, Isla Colón, and the mountains on the distant shore. Guests are welcome to use the kitchen. A third and fourth person in the room are another US$11 each. The place has a family vibe and not a whole lot of privacy, so pray that your neighbors are simpático.
Hotel Tierra Verde (tel. 757-9903, cell 6615-5911, www.hoteltierraverde.com, starts at US$71.50 s/d, including breakfast) is a three-story, surfer-oriented hotel set back from the beach. Built in 2001, it has seven rooms with dark-wood paneling, all with air-conditioning and hot-water bathrooms. A two-bedroom suite (US$165 s/d) was added a couple years ago. It occupies the 3rd floor and has a private balcony, sitting room, mini-fridge, and cable TV. It’s quite attractive. Rates for the other rooms are US$71.50 s/d with a garden view and US$82.50 for an ocean view. Additional guests are US$11 each. Rates are somewhat higher during the holidays. Stays include a continental breakfast, use of kayaks, and wireless Internet access. Guests can also use the Internet computer in the lobby. The hotel arranges a variety of tours.
Doña Mara (tel. 757-9551, donamara10 [at] hotmail [dot] com, www.bocas.com, US$71.50 s/d), on the east side of the island, facing Bastimentos, is a cinderblock building with six simple but pleasant and brightly painted rooms, all with air-conditioning, cable TV, and tile floors. The place is well-maintained. It’s on a small beach and has a bar and restaurant that’s open 7:30 a.m.–9 p.m. daily.
The Pickled Parrot (tel. 757-9093, 11 a.m.–late daily, US$5–6), near the end of the path on the east side of Carenero, consists of a large rancho built onto a pier where one can watch waves crashing under one’s feet. It serves bar food and big burgers. Mainly, though, it’s a relaxing place to drink a beer and meditate on the islands and sea. The kitchen closes at 9 p.m., but the bar stays open until the last customer teeters out. Note that the last water taxi to Isla Colón leaves around midnight. The joint has a few rooms for rent if you get stranded.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition